By Marc Stears
It has been an incredible week for Labour. Following days of hackgate revelations, and building up to Murdoch and Brooks’s parliamentary apperances, Ed Miliband gave his best speech so far as Labour leader. In it, he not only caught the mood of the nation, he laid out a new political strategy. Labour, from now on, will prioritise the construction of a society with a far deeper sense of collective responsibility and it will seek to do so by confronting irresponsible power elites wherever it finds them.
It was an invigorating moment. In true Labour fashion, though, there was an irony attached. For the dramatic new strategy emerged at exactly the time when one of the movements that had provided so much of the ideological momentum behind it – the controversially named Blue Labour movement – appeared to implode.
That Blue Labour crisis came about, of course, as a result of two interviews and a Daily Express headline. The interviews were with Maurice Glasman in the Fabian Review and the Guardian. The Express headline was an incendiary summary of his views on immigration as expressed in those two interviews. The result was a series of commentators who had been associated with Blue Labour, including myself, dramatically distancing themselves from this perspective on immigration policy and in some cases from the whole movement itself. Dan Hodges pronounced Blue Labour dead.
Whatever comes of this internal crisis, though, Ed Miliband’s speech reminds us of precisely why the ideas developed in the e-book that started this whole debate The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox must not be lost in this Blue Labour storm. None of those ideas concern immigration. None of them involve closing our borders or turning our back on our internationalist heritage. Instead, they concern the state of the country and what might be done about it.
That e-book starts from the observation that after years of Thatcherism and New Labour, years of an under-regulated market and an overly-centralized and undemocratically closeted state, the country is demanding a new settlement. It is demanding that the unaccountable power elites of Britain – be they bankers, media moguls, or Westminster politicians – become far more responsive to the people. And it is demanding that we rebuild a politics of mutual concern, where each of us has an obligation to build relationships with each other and to treasure the role that each of us can play in building a common life.
What we all must share in Labour is a belief that it is our party’s job to make sense of this new national mission and to help to realise it. The Party is already making huge strides in that direction, astonishingly so given how soon it is after a devastating election defeat. Ed Miliband’s leadership, the campaigns of Movement for Change, the efforts to refound Labour as an organizing movement are all manifestations of that. It would be a tragedy – a real tragedy – if we lost sight of that due to an internal argument about immigration policy, crucial though that issue is.
This is a time, then, for Labour to come together and to dediate itself to a new agenda. An agenda that both speaks directly to the country in a way that we have not for a very long time and celebrates that most profoundly radical aspects of our party’s tradition.